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Sleep and Teens With ADHD

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Parents of teens with ADHD hear everything under the sun about their kid’s diagnosis. Family, friends, teachers, and mental health professionals dole out all kinds of advice, free of charge, all day every day. They’re not the only ones. Everyone seems to have an opinion. If you’re the parent of a teen with ADHD, the barista at your local coffeeshop has probably weighed in on what you should be doing about your kid’s disorder.

Everyone’s an expert.

We bet you’ve heard these lines:

It’s because of not enough P.E. at school.

Fish oil can really help with that.

Did you know there was no such thing as ADHD before they started adding Red Dye #3 to food products?

All that blue light from computer screens, tablets, and phones is really what causes ADHD.

Social media is definitely to blame.

What people who give this advice don’t realize is that most parents of teens with ADHD have been living with it for years, since the first signs typically show up long before adolescence. They’ve read the good articles, the bad articles, and heard about all the home remedies. They’ve peeked in on the conspiracy-esque theories people share on social media.

The smart ones listen to the sound, thoughtful advice given by their primary care physicians, pediatricians, psychiatrists, and counselors. They consider things like medication, lifestyle changes, and therapy. Then they formulate a course of action based on what they know about their child, the advice of people they trust, and what’s doable in their lives.

A recent study shows there’s one simple thing that will help their child manage their ADHD symptoms: a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Improves Brain Function

With all the attention given to ADHD over the past twenty years, you’d think there’s loads of definitive research out there on the relationship between sleep and ADHD in adolescents – but there’s not.

In fact, data from the only major study on the subject was first presented in 2019. The setup of this experiment was simple. Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital recruited teenagers diagnosed with ADHD to take part in two separate week-long studies on sleep. During the first week, they limited sleep time to six and a half hours each night. During the second week, they allowed the teens to sleep for nine and a half hours each night. At the end of each week, the teens took a test that measured executive function in their brains.

The data revealed that in every area critical to optimal functioning – working memory, emotional control, impulse control, and organization – the teenager who slept nine and a half hours per night outperformed those who slept six and a half hours.

The Basics Matter

What this study teaches us is that when something is going on with our children – whether they’re toddlers, school age, teenagers, or already in college – it’s important to check on the basics first. By basics we mean lifestyle choices we know are good for under any circumstance: healthy diet, regular physical activity, and plenty of sleep. We know these things won’t cure disease or solve complex mental health disorders, but we do know they’re the foundation of a stable, balanced life. And now we know one more thing: in teens with ADHD, one of those basics – sleep – can make a big difference.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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We know parents need support, too. That is exactly why we offer a chance for parents of teens to connect virtually in a safe space! Each week parents meet to share resources and talk through the struggles of balancing child care, work responsibilities, and self-care.

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